A Billion?

AN after-dinner company were discussing Federal finances when one of the group observed, ‘Well, just how much is a billion, anyhow ? ’

‘Why, a billion is a thousand millions,’someone replied. ‘Or, if you like it better, it is a thousand thousand thousands.’

None of us had ever seen a million of anything, much less a billion. Indeed, as we discussed the matter, it seemed doubtful if any of us had ever actually seen as much as a thousand of anything tangible.

To be sure, a number of us had driven a hundred thousand miles or more in the course of years, and we had all seen assemblages said to number fifty, sixty, even eighty thousand or more. But had we seen them as separate individuals, or merely as a mass of humanity?

The more we discussed the matter, the clearer it became that the sense of number, in its higher values, is soon lost. Our impression is one of mass instead of individuals, and as we approach the million mark our comprehension is little more than a mental abstraction.

So it was that each of us took paper and pencil and set to work in an effort to express a billion in terms sufficiently familiar to give something like an adequate conception of its meaning as a measure of values. The results of our efforts in various directions were substantially as follows: —

It has been only a little over a billion minutes since Christ was born in Bethlehem.

If some man had spent a thousand dollars the day that Christ was born and every day thereafter as long as he lived, and if one of his descendants had continued to dispense funds at the same rate ever since, it would be some eight hundred years yet before a billion dollars would be spent — that is, around the year 2736.

Somebody announced that his calculations showed that it is only a little over a billion and a half inches around the world at the equator, and but slightly more than a billion and a quarter feet to the moon.

To change the picture, we found that a man whose pulse is around eighty to the minute will be almost twenty-four years old before his heartbeats amount to a billion.

It is a rapid speaker who can enunciate a hundred and fifty words to the minute. But if one could do that and hold out at the same rate for eight hours a day, month after month, indefinitely, it would take him almost thirty-eight years to deliver a billion words, with no time out for Sundays, holidays, or vacation.

A good ear of corn has about a thousand kernels. But it would require some twenty thousand bushels, or a matter of five hundred tons, of shelled corn to count out a billion kernels.

And if a man should set out to count the kernels in that twenty thousand bushels, and could maintain a rate of a hundred to the minute for eight hours a day, it would take him a matter of fifty-seven years to finish the job.

A forest with twenty-five mature trees to the acre is good lumbering. But to furnish a billion trees at the same rate would require an acreage equal to the combined area of New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, and most of Palestine.

A billion dollars is the total value to the farmer of the normal corn crop raised on an acreage equal to the combined area of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and most of New York.

A billion dollars would pay the farmer for all the cows and hogs of the United States, or for all the horses and sheep on American farms. It is nearly twice the farm value of all the beef cattle and calves before the day of the Great Slaughter.

In dollar bills laid end to end, one billion would reach one million, one hundred and sixty-seven thousand miles. This is more than forty-six times around the earth, and enough to reach to the moon and back twice, with some two hundred thousand miles to spare.

Finally, the total Federal debt amounts to one dollar for every hen’s egg laid in the United States in one year, according to the reports of the United States Department of Agriculture.